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I've been to Greece 3 times, Italy 4 times, and my goal for 2019 is to get to Spain 2 MORE TIMES so it can reach my top 3. Why you ask? Because I love loved loved my trip there and I need to take Joe to Barcelona. Also the country is pretty big, so just seeing 2 major cities does not do it justice. I am hoping to revisit Barcelona with Joe, but also do a separate trip visiting towns in Southern Spain. Putting this all in writing will make it way easier for me to follow through on planning this!
The last time I went to Spain was in 2013; me and a couple girlfriends spent 5 days in Barcelona total, but mid-week we hopped a plane over to Madrid for 3 days, and also when we were in Barcelona we took a day trip to Sitges, so we actually only had about 3.5 full days in Barcelona. This was simply just not enough time to explore this amazing city. First off, it's huge! We saw a lot but I feel like we only scratched the surface. I think one day we walked about 15 miles no joke. They do have public transit, but the weather was so nice and the architecture is so unique you can easily get lost in it all (in a good way). Secondly, it's by the ocean, so it's real easy to get sucked into that lazy beach life and take a day for that. But for the limited time we were there we did a pretty good job getting in the sights that we could. Which were:
Las Ramblas: Tree lined pedestrian mall with hundreds of retail shops, bars, restaurants - such a scene!
Cable Car to Montjuic: Ride high about Barcelona- takes you to the top of Montjuic, where you'll have amazing 360 views of the city below. Definitely worth doing, anything for a view!
All the Gaudi architecture: It's everywhere! And it's crazy cool. Barcelona is basically an outdoor Gaudi museum. Some houses are sprinkled in Las Ramblas and on random streets throughout the city, and Parc Guell, well here's the whole list if you want to do a walking Gaudi tour sans guide:
All the other architecture: Gaudi isn't all they got going on in Barcelona. All the medieval churches and temples and palaces around every corner- just breaktaking!
Salvador Dali Museum: I'm a fan it's it was crazy wacky and right downtown- worth a tour for sure if you like his stuff
La Sagrada Familia: Ah-may-zing. Just go. Yes you need a ticket to get inside, buy it and do the tour, it's just as crazy beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside
The Beach: The beach is so nice! And it's right there! And you are going to need a break from all this sightseeing. Plus it has a bunch of bars/restaurants right there so you won't need to stray far for a snack. Also, at night there are so many clubs here if you are looking for nightlife. I was super jetlagged and going for runs around 6am each morning along the beach path, and every morning I would watch as club-goers were stumbling out into the light. So yeah, I'm guessing the club scene is pretty epic here.
Gothic Quarter: This is where we stayed in our Airbnb, which I thought was a perfect location. This is the center of the old city, so we were right in the middle of everything, yet just a few blocks from the Barceloneta beach area. We had so many bars, restaurants, shops, and dining plazas right at our doorstep. Most of this area's sidestreets were cut off to vehicles, which was also super nice to just walk around. We found a great block of bars/restaurants perfect for nightlife after a long late-night dinner right around the corner from us- shout out to the Cactus Bar for getting my friends and I super drunk on Caipirinhas!
The Food and the Wine: This goes without saying right? Who doesn't like tapas and wine?! This is what Barcelona is all about! But they also have their share of really cutting edge restaurants with fancy culinary programs, and awesome cocktail bars. So you have options of doing simple or fancy. Old school versus new school. It's all gonna be good so why not try it all! BTW pro tip, like many southern European cities, people do not eat dinner until way late here. Think 10pm. But don't worry, the bars closing times follow suit accordingly (makes sense why I saw people leaving the clubs at 6am, they didn't get there probably until 1am!)
Side trip to Sitges: This was a really cool beach town that we checked out for a day. Only an hour by local train. Felt good to get out of the big city for a minute. Definitely would recommend this for others staying in Barcelona for a week or so and wanted to take it easy for a day.
Madrid: We only had a full 2.5 days in Madrid due to the plane rides back and forth (it was about a 45min ride from Barcelona, very cheap flights which I love), but it was enough to get a good taste of the city. The feel here is definitely different from Barcelona, being landlocked. It felt way more like a traditional city, with a little Spanish flair to it. We packed in those 2.5 days for sure, more walking of course! Madrid had some really beautiful parks - less architecture focus and focus on the greenery and landscaping - so again, very different from Barcelona's parks. More amazing tapas meals, and we took full advantage of our Airbnb being so close to the San Miguel Market- we found some delicious food options there! We also saw a flamenco show one night, which was pretty cool, and checked out the palace (also owner to another great park). Looking back, I think we spent the right amount of time in Madrid - I really enjoyed it and glad that we went - but Barcelona is more my style.
Pictures below: First 13 photos Barcelona, next 10 photos are Madrid, last 2 are Stiges